What does it say about me if my boyfriend wants to sleep with other people? What the fuck is wrong with me that he can’t be with just me?

I’m madly in love with my boyfriend, but I hate our relationship. With every sacrifice I make, I’m starting to hate myself a little more, too. For a little over a year we’ve been in a non-monogamous relationship. Open relationships aren’t new to the gay community but they’re new to me. I’ve always preferred to be with just one guy while in a relationship, but that sort of commitment really puts my boyfriend on edge. We’ve tried being in a traditional relationship and something changed in him; there was something about him that I didn’t like. He wasn’t happy, and was constantly stressing and paranoid about not cheating on me. So I decided to go for an open relationship. I didn’t want us to breakup and I wanted to see where things would go. That was a year ago.

So where am I now? Listening to a 2007 Alicia Keys song on repeat for days at a time, trying to understand what it is about me that doesn’t meet his expectations. I want this stubborn man I’m dating to meet me halfway. I want him to keep his sexual behavior to himself. I don’t want to find condom wrappers in his garbage can anymore. I don’t want to see his Grindr notifications pop-up on his screen. I don’t want to feel like there’s some ominous third person in this relationship all the fucking time. I want him to fuck me and only me. It takes a conscious decision every day for me to stay. I think about us breaking up at least twice a week. Before my own open relationship, whenever a friend would tell me they were getting into one I’d always respond with, ‘I don’t know how you could do it! Not me, never me!’ It’s safe to say that this immediate response had a lot to do with fear of being judged; I still feel this way too. There is so much fear and confusion–dating someone who wants to fuck other people was never part of the birds and bees talk my mother gave me. Ask Polly has yet to write any empowering words about how to handle falling asleep in the same bed your boyfriend fucked someone else in. Every time I snuggle up to him at night, I want this feeling of self-loathing and impending doom to go away. It doesn’t.

The progression of our relationship was like any other normal relationship: casual dating and then wanting more. I asked for exclusivity and he told me he couldn’t give that to me right now. I was okay with that at the time, but I didn’t think he still wouldn’t be able to give it to me after a year. As our open relationship progressed, I began to notice the sacrifices I was making. There were the normal relationship sacrifices like time and money, which didn’t bother me. But it started to get tricky when I began making sacrifices I didn’t believe in. I tried not to get upset when he would text another guy, but a sense of betrayal lingered. It felt like he was inviting someone else into our life together. I tried not to be angry that his bedroom would often smell like sex when I came over, and he would tell me time and time again that the decision to be non-monogamous was about him, that it had nothing to do with me. But that didn’t make it any easier. In fact, it made me believe even more that it was about me. I started to hate myself, and instead of believing him, began thinking about everything that was wrong with me. It felt like when my mother would tell me I’m not mad, I’m disappointed. Except that disappointment is always so much more crushing than anger would be. Now, I feel like a gay adult male who is disappointing my partner by not being able to give him what he needs.

He’ll tell me I am enough, and I’ll nod my head, but I won’t believe it. He’ll tell me he loves me and wants to be with me and I’ll respond, I know. Me too. But deep down I still feel inferior. I don’t trust him not to hurt me. I don’t trust him, because he already does things that he knows hurt me. If I agreed to it, does that make it any better? Am I supposed to sacrifice my own happiness because my boyfriend loves to put his dick in a dancer? I guess I’m supposed to be totally okay that my boyfriend likes to add everyone he’s ever fucked as a friend on Facebook? The worst part is, I’ve become addicted to seeing which skinny, hairless twenty-something he added as a friend this week. The bad dye jobs of boys with my waist size haunt me in my sleep. He says we are in this together, but I don’t believe it. I don’t believe a lot of things about our relationship. I don’t believe him when his phone buzzes at 1 AM and he tells me the unsaved number that just texted him was a work-related issue. I don’t believe that when he says he’s going out with friends that he comes home alone. I hold him so tight at night. I lay in bed and I think about the good things that have come out of this relationship. But I don’t always feel like his arms are the safest place to be. Every fight we have is all about how I feel inferior. I try and talk about it with him and I sound like a broken record.

Still, I decided it’s worth it. This is not currently the relationship I want, but I still believe it could turn into the relationship I crave. Down the line I could have kids with him, we could get a puppy, or get into little fights at Bergdorfs. I let myself dream those dreams. Sure, it really sucks at times, but I tell myself it’s okay to not be this happy, amazing person in my relationship all the fucking time. When I am happy and in love, then I relish it and celebrate it–because it’s not often. But I am no longer the incredible warm person I was on our first date. After a year of insecurity and second-guessing myself I have become a little cold. I’ve also learned that messy, emotional me can be loved by someone even when I am cold and checked out. On one hand, I want nothing but our love to grow and flourish and for us to get to that point where everything we both want is fulfilled. On the other I want to be strong and brave and leave him in Hell’s Kitchen because I’ve realized I deserve more.

So why do I do it? Maybe it’s the people-pleaser in me; I want him to be happy. I know I deserve to be loved, and I am. But I’m not being loved on my terms. I’m not being loved the way I want to be loved. I crave a traditional relationship. I want to be the only one in his bed. Even if we don’t wind up with kids, a dog and dual-income household, I’ll know that I’ve been loved and that I did love. I’ll know that he did his best to give me what I want and I did my best to accept his shortcomings. Maybe I am strong enough to handle what I’ve been given to work with, or maybe I’ll break down and realize I can’t handle how often my mind scours over a list of everything that’s wrong with what we have. Every night I have to talk myself back into this relationship, because if I don’t, I won’t believe what we have is one.

The author has chosen to remain anonymous. Illustration by Sarah Lutkenhaus.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. Leave him, this doesn’t end well. It’s hard to break out of and will hurt a while, but will be thankful later living on your terms. All the best!

  2. It sounds like you need to get out of that relationship, as it is clearly not okay with you. Don’t sacrifice what you want just because you’re afraid of being alone. It is offensive to assume the person you are with doesn’t love you (the “correct” way) if they have been upfront and honest about their behaviors. It is 2016 and I hope we can, as a society, see that not all people are wired to show love in the same traditional manner. It’s great if you are, and still just as great if you aren’t. You just have to be honest about it and understand that changing yourself and sacrificing your desires is never good, and will just leave you bitter and resentful. Think about you and your own actions, not about how to “keep” your partner because that is not a act of love. Honesty is.

  3. You do have a relationship with your boyfriend because you left yourself behind to give everything to one person. As long as you think you are not enough, you can control something in the relationship and do this for you. Your boyfriend wants an open relationship because it works for him for various reasons. This lifestyle does not work for you, your spirit or mind. Think of the open relationship lifestyle as a religion. Would you condemn someone for being Hindu, Christian or Muslim? No, because it is a very personal choice that fits someones beliefs, wants, and inner landscape. The real question is why are you staying in a relationship that is hurting you? Look at your own motivations, your desperation to be loved at any cost and you will find the doorway back to yourself.

  4. I am 100% a monogamous being. I’m a well raised, old fashioned Midwestern guy. You should live your life by your beliefs. There are guys out there just like yourself. Get out of that relationship. I just got out of a long relationship due to sneaking around and cheating. Life is too short.

  5. I am 100% a monogamous being. I’m a well raised, old fashioned Midwestern guy. You should live your life by your beliefs. There are guys out there just like yourself. Get out of that relationship. I just got out of a long relationship due to sneaking around and cheating. Life is too short. Move on.

  6. Get out. Please get out now.

    I am not opposed to open relationships, heck I have been a swinger for years, but this isn’t healthy, and it isn’t good. First you guys tried it your way, with exclusivity and that didn’t work for him, now you are trying it his way with an open relationship, and that isn’t working for you. Maybe there is a compromise available, maybe not, but I have seen people in your situation, and it simply isn’t a health way to live.

    I obviously don’t know you, or your boyfriend, but what you describe has all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship. True in this case the abuse isn’t intentional, it is even being done with your acceptance if not approval, but it is still emotionally damaging.

    As a ling term swinger, I can tell you this has disaster written all over it. Open relationships can be wonderful, they can open new doors of sexual fun to a relationship. But they can also do real harm if both participants are not interested.

  7. The familiarity I felt while reading how you feel in a situation so close to my own has me weeping silently. Some days I think my sacrifices are the definition of love. Other days Im just replaying a familiar pattern because I’ve never known any better.

  8. Sucker!!!!
    Your ‘boyfriend'(I hesitate to call him that) is getting all the gravy from everyone. You get the leftovers.
    He’s playing you like a cheap fiddle.
    He will never ‘settle’.
    You are living in a self punishing dream world.
    You said yourself this is not the type of relationship you want.
    So, why the hell are you still trying to make it ‘work’?
    Your soon to be ex is getting everything and everyone he wants from your situation.
    Dump him and start looking for someone who wants what you want.
    That guy never will.
    Wake the hell up!!!!…..and get tested. He’s already demonstrated in spades he can’t be trusted.

  9. Leave him. Leave him now or one day you will wake up totally alone. You are better than this. There are plenty of men who want a monogamous relationship and would welcome you with open arms. While you still have some dignity, leave this loser. Do it today.

  10. What is wrong with you that your boyfriend can’t only be with you? Nothing. What is wrong with him? Nothing.
    Do you agree on the definition and requirements for love? No
    Whose definition is wrong? Neither
    You are, as they say, “Starcrossed Lovers”.
    For you, being loved requires exclusivity, but you may not demand it of one who doesn’t see it that way. In a forced, monogamous relationship,, he will not be happy and. you have said it, you want him to be happy.
    For you, an intimate relationship feels essential; for him it is convenient.
    The painful, correct decision is to cut him loose, for the benifit of you both. Be brave in advocating for your concept of “love”, because he may never sever a relationship which is love as he understands it., To that, you expect too much!

  11. I feel for you. Been there and had the battle with myself you are having. “Man Know they self.” Posted over the door of the temple of Apollo. Quit looking at what he is doing and look at your own feelings and why you are feeling them. Insecurity! You cannot change another person. If you want to keep the relationship you must make a change. Open up to him and negotiate, but be prepared to bend and hope he will also. Suggestions. He can have his play mates, but not in your hone. Share his boy toys together. Think out side of the box you have locked yourself into. You cannot own him! you must become partners not possessions.

    When I had my fight with me I came out of it with definition of love. Love is the giving of self without the thought of a return. Giving, but never sacrificing. Sacrificing leads to resentment. When 2 (or more) people can reach this state of mind and let the wind dance between them they are on the road to togetherness. All good to you both.

  12. Yeah…hell no. There is NO way my boyfriend could EVER get away with that with me. There is a huge movement that tries to make monogamy-minded people feel selfish and jealous and evil but I am not falling for it because not everyone is wired for non-monogamy. I know I sure am not. If two people crave to be in an open relationship, more power to them. But when its one sided, its no good. You need to find somebody else. This man is not the one.

  13. Leave him. You deserve better. His lack of integrity lessens yours even more. Clearly he wants no commitment. Hell dump you sooner than you think. Ou are better than him and this situation. Wake up.

  14. This is OBVIOUSLY a bad fit. Only 13% of gay men are in a relationship, according to the largest recent study of this (Keith Swain, 2006). Most of those who say they want one only want men who are unavailable (I was like this until age 30, when my character fundamentally changed). I’m not possessive, and have been in long term FWB relationships, but I would NOT want to be involved with a guy who has a constant parade of hookups going on – this is a mark of a narcissistic disorder and I don’t respect it.

  15. what is there to discuss….. move on already Have a little self respect. Agreeing to something that is causing this much tension and anxiety is not going to go away. next, resentment will begin and then it is downhill from there.

    This situation is going against your own inner conciseness which should be a rudder in your life. Even if you agreed to an open relationship, don’t put your sh*** in the street and surely not ask your sexual partners to be friends on facebook

    If your boyfriend wants to sleep around, let him go.. then you will realize you never had him in the first place

  16. TBH- I started skimming about two or three paragraphs in.

    If you were my friend and started in with this, I would sit you down and say, “Please listen to how much you are talking about how miserable you are. Why are you putting yourself through this?”

    Are you so desperate not to be alone that you’d rather be miserable? That sounds like a terrible life.

  17. You need to see a professional counselor. Your relationship is in peril because you have not built a strong enough foundation. It is extremely clear from your article that the two of you have not worked out “rules” and that it’s either your way or his way. You need to find middle ground. You need to develop the tools to reach understandings together. It is often helpful for each of you to have solo sessions with the counselor and then couples sessions.

    Get help!

  18. Jesus, you sound miserable. I don’t see any hope in this. Guys who wander that much and are USED to that don’t change. Even when you think it’s past, it will come creeping back. He might be yours and only yours when he gets so old he can’t do it anymore but not before. Save yourself. There are plenty of other good men out there and you would be better to spend all of this energy looking for one.

  19. Get out and get out now. If you don’t want to be in an open relationship, then don’t. A relationship involves compromise but it isn’t one-sided. You’re in a one-sided relationship where your boyfriend is calling all the shots and forcing you to compromise your self-worth, dignity and values. You shouldn’t have to do that. Trust me, I’ve been there. I got tired of the anonymous texts, the broken date nights and my own self-doubt. All it took was his last “I love you so much” followed by exposing me to an STD (and lying about it) that made me come to my senses and walk away. Walk away. It will suck at first but you’ll be better in the long run.

  20. Get out and get out now. If you don’t want to be in an open relationship, you don’t have to be in one. Why settle? A relationship involves two people and compromise. What you have is not a relationship. Your boyfriend is calling all the shots and, in the process, is forcing you to sacrifice your self-worth, dignity and values. No one should have to live with the doubt you’re feeling. And what you have is not love. It’s abuse. I’ve been there. I got tired of the anonymous texts, the broken date nights and the nights I sat home alone while he hooked up. All it took was his last “I love you so much” followed by exposing me to an STD and lying about it that made me come to my senses. Leave. It will suck at first, but it gets better in time. You’ll be a better and happier person.

  21. It’s always fascinating to me when folks tell you what their problem is, they identify how to fix it, and then end up claiming they can’t possibly fix it.
    The letter writer believes in monogamy. Yet he’s trying to live like he doesn’t and is reaping all the horrible rewards. The letter writer doesn’t seem to respect himself at all, honestly. His boyfriend sure likes taking care of himself, as he shows with his refusal to compromise for his relationship. Oh letter writer, open your eyes and read your own words. You’re living the wrong life, here. You’re trying to be someone you aren’t. Stop it, for your own sake. Be a proud, gay, MONOGAMOUS man. Trust that life will be filled with happiness and joy once you stop forcing yourself to live a lie.

  22. Number one problem with this entire article is that this person should be telling his partner, not us. Here’s where the issue lies. Communications. He needs to sit down with his partner and lay it on the table but I think, like any of us would be, he’s scared of what the consequences would be. There’s give and take in any relationship. Relationships are dynamic and take continued effort to make the work, but at the end of the day, none of it will ever work it you’re not talking. If there’s a loving bond there, then each partner gives (sometimes a LOT) to make the other partner happy. If one is not happy then they talk about what might make them happier or fulfill some missing need. This is often where the open relationship comes into play but it MUST have boundaries and it must be constantly re-evaluated between the two partners. It’s not a trust issue but an issue of what will make he relationship stronger, not weaker.

    This relationship not only has one partner very unhappy but there are strong signs of distrust. The writer does not believe what his partner is telling him. He’s not happy, he doesn’t trust what his partner is saying, now comes anger and then it will all finally blow up and be an unhappy mess. Sit down, lay it on the table and if closing the relationship, opening the phone to allowing for trust to be reestablished isn’t an option then neither is the relationship. Not all relationships are going to work and we have to accept that. Sometimes it is truly worth it for each partner to accept the end and move on to find another that is a better match.

    It all begins with communications. If you don’t have that, then you’re destined for failure.

  23. Big red flags here that mark your self-esteem issues as major causal factors in this scenario. Not being honest about your feelings on non-monogamy and not forcing a real conversation–this is where you lack respect for yourself–not in allowing your partner to continue to act exactly the same way, again and again, in ways that hurt you, without any consequence. That allows your situation to continue. You are aligning your lack of self-esteem with your partner’s sexual attraction to you and other people, and any partner you have could feel attraction (and prob will) to others, regardless of your feelings, discussions, and agreements on the monogamy issue. You deserve to give yourself more and seek out your own happiness, not hang around and foster resentment (saying you ‘deserve’ better–well take it!), keeping your feelings bottled and essentially being dishonest about the feasibility of this relationship. He was honest about his ability to be monogamous, he told you he still couldn’t, and after a year or more of no change in the situation, it’s pretty clear where the needed action falls.

  24. My BF and I are open. We are not super sluts, but things happen. Sometimes we even play together. The key is we are both honest with each other. In other words we are on the same page. You two are not. Good luck, and I hope you find happiness wherever it is.

  25. In the current state, this relationship won’t last. What’s going on is a painfully slow version of bleeding to death. Eventually, one of them is going to wake up and realize that they are no longer invested in the relationship and that will be that.

  26. I respect the fact that you love you bf and you have a vision in your head of the life you could lead together. However, you need to step back and look at if they life is an actual possibility or if it is a fantasy based on your own ideals. It seems that might be the case. Just as you can’t change how you feel about monogamy, neither can he. I would guess that the more you two fight about it, the more miserable both of you become. A good partner should not want to hurt the other one. Both of you are hurting each other. It is not malicious, but it is still hurtful. Neither of you fully accepts the other person for who they are and are expecting the other to change. It is entirely possible to love someone, but to be completely wrong for one another. This is too large of a relationship cornerstone to ignore. It is unhealthy both mentally and physically to try to force yourself to believe in something that you don’t Put it into perspective, it is no different than trying to force yourself to sleep with a woman. It goes against who you are as a human being. It is just not how you are wired. There isn’t anything wrong with either of you for how you behave as individuals, but it doesn’t mean that it is right for your relationship.

  27. If you can’t beat them, join them. Monogamous relationships work for heterosexual couples because they can create offspring. Same-sex relationship cannot create offspring, so monogamy makes no sense.

    Instead of fighting your boyfriend’s behavior, join it. Choose a third partner together. Enjoy the relationship not the exclusivity. Good luck.

  28. What can I say. I’ve been there. Felt that. It destroyed my soul. It destroyed my very sense of self-worth. I don’t care what people think, for me these open “arrangements” (I really can’t call them a relationship, it seems like a contract between two people) are one of the most self-destructive things gay people are known for – unfortunately. Why is there so much promiscuity among gay men? Why are they with us in their lives but still looking around? Why is it that when I fall in love all I can think of and the only man I desire to sleep with is the one to whom I dedicate my love and affection? Why are gay guys always window-shopping and looking for something “new” or “better”?
    I hurt myself pretty badly when I tried to accept/be in an open relationship. I guess I’ve learned the hard way that I just can’t be in one. How many nights I’ve spent crying. How many times I’ve become jealous of the man I love only to realize that – in a cruel way – I couldn’t complain as I accepted the terms of our relationship before. Really, if one of the partners is in love and accepts the open arrangement as a means not to lose the man they love, how cruel it is for the partner that feels rejected, betrayed and hurt? Worse yet, we feel like we’ve got no right to be hurt, sad or complain whatsoever. And, then, we blame ourselves. We feel bad looking. We feel like if we were more attractive, smarter, funnier, better, bigger/more muscled they would not look for other guys. They would not want to fuck other men.
    Well, I just wanted to tell you that I know how it feels. And I hope you can still be with the man you love but in a different kind of relationship. In a loving and nurturing and commitment-based relationship.
    And if anyone argues that “gay guys are promiscuous” because of something in our very nature, I’ll argue that this is the same kind of thought that has dragged our community towards drug-abuse, self-loathing, low self-esteem and many other sad realities that gay men are still facing nowadays.
    I can only hope for a better future, for me and all of my peers.
    Sincerely,
    A hopeful, hurt, loving soul.

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